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June 24, 1990


By CBR Staff Writer

In a move that could have far-reaching effects on the token-passing local area network sector, the UK High Court ruled last Friday that the Olof Soderblom patent on token ring technology was invalid. The six-day trial follows a challenge to the patent made by Robert Madge of UK networking firm Madge Networks Ltd (CI No 1,376): Madge successfully claimed that the patent, which was originally obtained in 1967 by inventor and entrepreneur Olof Soderblom and is now the property of the Willemijn Holding BV, Holland, was invalid firstly because it does not describe token-passing technology, and secondly because it is not applicable to standard, peer-to-peer local area networks. According to Madge, the Soderblom patent in fact describes an improved polling technology, where traffic messages are sent from a central machine on the same lines as the data itself; this data would then be sent to subordinated terminals on a wide area network that could not communicate directly with each other – the source and destination of all messages would be the central computer. Madge continued that the real token ring patent was taken out by AT&T’s Bell Laboratories and has since expired – despite the fact that Soderblom also bought that patent some years ago. The short-term significance of the UK ruling is more symbolic than anything else since the Soderblom patent expired in the UK two years ago: after the hearing, a jubilant Madge nonetheless said that it demonstrates to the world a proper judgement and that the Soderblom system is completely different to real token ring technology; Madge expected that the decision would have the effect of removing the uncertainty from the token ring industry and would expand the market for token rings. Madge is currently involved in litigation with Soderblom in the US, where the patent is not due to expire before 1998: in order to force through a quick judgement, Madge is opting for a summary judgement procedure and is hopeful that the findings of the UK court could be used to good effect in the US – particularly since additional re-issue claims made recently by Soderblom have just been thrown out. If Madge is successful in the US, it would mean that IBM, Hewlett-Packard-Apollo and others could theoretically go about the business of reclaiming the $20m of royalties that Soderblom has accumulated from the US market. When told of the news, a spokesman for Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based Apollo Computer Inc, which fought a protracted battle against Soderblom until Hewlett-Packard Co took it over, decided that the spat was undignified and settled with Wilhelmijn, spontaneously yelled for joy, a reaction that he later characterised as anonymous raucous laughter; an IBM spokesman said between chuckles that he was surprised and didn’t know what to say prior to an official statement. – Mark John

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